Tuesday, June 30, 2009

Winq Wink, Nudge Nudge

As blogger Matthew Rettenmund shows (here), I'm not the only one to appreciate global gay culture magazine Winq. (And there are others.) His blog offers a preview of the latest issue of the U.S. edition of Winq (cover, left; Netherlands edition cover lower right).

Glad to see others are noticing this good magazine. My one complaint would be this: It's a very difficult magazine to find. I never saw the first issue (had to buy it as a back issue, shipped all the way from Holland), and I quickly bought the second issue at a Borders here in San Francisco. But I haven't seen the third issue yet, despite my frequent visits to Borders. If I'm having trouble finding it in downtown San Fran, how is anyone finding it elsewhere?

I'd normally subscribe -- after all, I loves subscribing -- but the subscription price to have this quarterly delivered in the United States is $59, nearly twice the cover price (at $7.98 a pop). Not a bargain.

Hopefully, these are just the growing pains as the magazine spreads its wings (winqs? sorry) in the United States.

Sunday, June 28, 2009

Magazine Memories: Fangoria in the Provinces

When I was a youngling (to cite Yoda) growing up in the metropolis of Manitowoc, Wisconsin (population 35,000), I was intrigued in my very early teen years by a freaky little magazine I'd see on the newsstands of the local Copps grocery/department store (you hadda be there) called Fangoria. I had also seen it on the stands at my favorite bookstore/newsstand/Hallmark-cards store downtown (again, only 35,000 peeps) where I pretty much spent all of the money I made every two weeks delivering the Herald-Times-Reporter. (I was very good at newspaper delivery, BTW, and may have peaked there, professionally.)

Anywho, as a geeky Starlog-reading, science fiction aficionado, I knew about Fango, its sister publication, but I was kinda scared to buy a copy. It had photos on its cover of people covered with (fake) blood and wielding chainsaws. You know, nice boys didn't buy such magazines. And there at the Copps magazine rack was Fangoria number 8 with a decomposed corpse's skull on the cover. I wanted to buy that magazine, because I knew it must contain stuff I shouldn't know about. But I didn't (mostly limited by my small weekly allowance, which -- once you have bought your requisite allotment of weekly candy -- really didn't stretch too far in those days of trickle-down economics and the Reagan recession).

I did start reading Fango the next year, with #15, which featured a slightly safer Halloween 2 cover. (Which I bought at the Hallmark store, making sure it was carefully covered in the shopping bag and feeling like someone who'd just bought Playgirl or Inches.) But I still mentally back-date my Fango allegiance to that gross Zombie cover of #8, and, to be perfectly frank, I have silently graded every single cover of Fango since then against that cover. Probably the best horror film magazine cover ever, though the Motel Hell cover the very next issue comes close, and I still hadn't worked up enough courage to buy it.

These thoughts all came back to me as a result of reading "Fangoria: The Scarlet Years" on the Horrorphile blog. If you share any of that 1980s' experience with trend-setting horror magazines, I heartily recommend that blog posting. It's a great reminder of the power that a thin little magazine that is head-over-heels devoted to covering a subject well can have on its audience, especially if its audience is made up of young people looking for something that shows them something just a bit out of the ordinary.

Mr. Magazine on Skin Covers

Samir Husni, aka "Mr. Magazine," writes that the magazines you'd expect to have naked ladies on their covers have become tame, while everyone else apparently has decided nekkid women will help pay the bills. See his always-interesting blog.

Saturday, June 27, 2009

The Latest Shopping Spree, Part III

My latest magazine shopping sprees, a combination of newsstand,subscription, and in-store shopping:

SFX (July 2009): As part of my continuing self-therapy for Starlog withdrawal, I picked up the July '09 issue of British competitor SFX, which has itself come under heavy competition from DeathRay and Sci Fi Now. What made me pick up SFX (which yet again manages to cover the bottom leg of the "E" in its title so that its title looks like SEX)? The Harry Potter cover story.

GQ (July 2009): Everyone's been talking about the "first nude cover" of GQ magazine, featuring Sacha Baron Cohen in character (but out of costume) of his Bruno. It's the magazine's special comedy issue, in which it annoys me by having an asterisk (design pet peeve) on the cover copy for "* No Joke? It's Our #ü@%ing COMEDY ISSUE!" Hmm, I'll make myself sound twice my actual age and ask, Remember when men's magazines didn't try to sound profane and trashy? Ah, whatever. There's also a Harold Ramis article.

Heavy Metal (Summer 2009): The buxom women on the covers of HM aren't going to attract me (see Winq, below), but what makes me pick up each issue is the quick process of shuffling through the pages and seeing (a) if the art looks high-quality, and (b) if it looks like the stories might be of high originality. This issue passed the test at the newsstand.

Winq (Fall 2008): This was a back issue of one of my recent great discoveries, ordered from the publisher in Belgium. From fashion to Berlin's gay holocaust memorial to Arabs and the French to, er, robot love and more. Here's another high-quality, beautifully designed issue of this magazine that puts American gay magazines to shame. And it should. Oh, and did I mention that it has a cover price of $7.95 for 148 pages? Beat that, American running dogs! (Oh, yeah, there are also some pix of some rather comely men in non-nude situations.)

Playboy (July/August 2009): The long-anticipated and somewhat controversial combined July/August issue of Playboy finally arrived on newsstands and subscriber mailboxes. Whenever Playboy gets enough pages to do itself justice, I am reminded of why this is a great magazine. When they're really squeezing out a thin issue, there's often only one or two articles that interest me, and if one of them is uninteresting or stupid, well, it's a weak issue. But when they put out an extra-page anniversary or holiday issue, we all get to see that Playboy can draw the best writers and artists in the country. This issue, we get an interview with actor Alec Baldwin; a 20 Questions conversation with Judd Apatow; a profile of TV pitchman Billy Mays; a symposium on the future with such contributors as T. Boone Pickens, Seth MacFarlane, Reza Aslan, and others; a graphic novel interpretation of Ray Bradbury's classic "Fahrenheit 451"; and much more.

DNA (#110): I picked up this issue for the geekiest of reasons: The article on gays in science fiction, especially because it highlights one of my all-time favorites, Battlestar Galactica. I mean, the barely-clad gentleman on the cover, who seems to be having a bit of a struggle to keep his trunks on, probably doesn't hurt its newsstand sales, but I'm sure I'm not the only gay man to focus on the sci-fi article.

Was tempted by but didn't succumb: The Week, Dwell, The Economist, Newsweek, Der Spiegel, Attitude.

My previous shopping spree.

Friday, June 26, 2009


Okay, I guess he didn't. Hope Reza Aslan's sources are right in the long-term, though.

Thursday, June 25, 2009

Reza Aslan: Khamenei to Soften Tone?

Reza Aslan writes on The Daily Beast today that there are reports that a deal may be in the works in Iran that would result in a run-off election between Ahmadinejad and Mousavi. This is apparently the work of former president Ayatollah Rafsanjani, who heads up the council that picks the supreme leader, currently his nemesis, Ayatollah Khamenei.

Though the government's brutal crackdown has quieted things today in Tehran, Aslan says things are still raging in the provinces: "[D]espite the fact that protests in the capital city of Tehran have diminished, there are still reports of massive protests taking place in other parts of the country, including in Tabriz, Isfahan, Kermanshah, Mashad and Shiraz. These protests have been significantly smaller due to the brutal security crackdown, but they have also been much more forceful and violent."

He says that Khamenei's Friday prayers tomorrow should be a good indication of a softening of tone and therefore whether these reports of a compromise are real or not.

Now, would that new election be any freer than the one two weeks ago, aye, that's the rub.

Wednesday, June 24, 2009

Thomas Frank Returns, Baffled Again

The Baffler, a Chicago-based magazine published infrequently but taking regular aim at the so-called new-economy (and the evils of the old economy) is returning, according to the New York Observer and others. This development will likely be welcomed by people searching for intelligent malcontents, and it will likely baffl -- um, confound people who drink the kool-aid of group-think economics.

I had the pleasure of interviewing editor Thomas Frank back in 2001 when I was an editor at (the now-defunct) Internet World magazine in NYC. My column (I always loved my column name, "Internet Whirl") on him focused on his reactions to prophets of the new economy such as George Gilder, people who claimed that the rules of business had been totally changed by information technology. My position has been that IT changed some of the parameters within business, but the basic structure has always been the same. When people start telling you that the old rules are completely wrong and there are no rules for the future -- they're usually trying to fleece you. In 2001 when I wrote the column, there were still a lot of people trying to live in that fantasy land. I suspect there are fewer today. You can read the whole column here.

I'll always have two memories of Frank. One is that every time I say or write his name, I have to stop and think, Wait, Frank Thomas was the White Sox slugger; so it's Thomas Frank who's the intellectual gadfly. The other is that our conversation (only a small portion of which made it into my column) was very enjoyable and ranged over a number of topics, including German ancestors fleeing the failure of the European democratic revolutions in 1848.

So, welcome back, Baffler.

Those of you who live near Silicon Valley can come to The Commonwealth Club of California on September 8, when Thomas Frank makes an appearance there. Watch the Commonwealth Club web site for updates.

Tuesday, June 23, 2009

Lifetime Bans for Iranian Footballers

As noted in a previous post with video, six players on the Iranian national football (soccer) team wore green armbands in the first half of a recent game against South Korea. The color green is the color adopted by the opposition candidate Mousavi in the recent clearly rigged Iranian presidential elections. The game, which was televised live in Iran, surprisingly failed to delight the hard-line ultra-religious Iranian regime, and that's not only because the team's loss effectively ended the country's World Cup hopes.

Anyway, some commentary on the event noted that it was a particularly brave act by the athletes, because they would have to return home after the trip. And now the other shoe has fallen: Four of the athletes have been banned for life from the sport (we do not yet know about the other two), and the Iranian government is continuing a wide-ranging assault on other Iranian football figures related to reformist causes. That's all according to a report in the British paper The Guardian.

It's still not too late for some American professional athletes to sport a green armband in their next televised appearances. But I doubt any or many will.

Real Newspapers Include Magazines

If a newspaper has any pretension of being a true big-city daily, it has to produce its own magazine for its table-thumping Sunday edition. Now, Folio: reports that the Chicago Tribune (which, under owner Sam Zell, has seemingly been doing all it can to become a small neighborhood paper -- closing foreign bureaus, reducing national and international news, shrinking size and scope of the paper, etc.) is going to stop producing its Sunday magazine.

You know, at some point, you stop being a newspaper.

Monday, June 22, 2009

Iranian.com Online Magazine Offers Updates

Power To The People from Jimmy Misinformed on Vimeo.

On the Iranian.com online magazine (whose motto "nothing's sacred" should give you a sense of how unloved it must be by Iran's religious establishment) has a page with regular updates on the situation with the Iranian post-election protests. It included the BBC's Persian service video, above, which shows police being repelled and then chased by protesters. I fear that in the short- to medium-term, the security forces are going to prove bigger and better armed than the protesters, but it looks like the demonstrators have a healthy lack of affection for people who shoot unarmed pro-democracy protesters.

Other sources for updates: Huffington Post has an update page that is refreshed throughout the day with the latest news, rumors, and videos; so does the New York Times.

Iranian Students Organize Online

On Irandokht, an online English-language (with some Farsi [I think] sections) Iranian women's magazine, there is a posting by Iranian students seeking support for their online petition condemning the violence against protesters in Iran. To read their message and sign their petition, see the Irandokht forum here, and scroll down to the subhead "Condemn Violence."

Sunday, June 21, 2009

Starlog Withdrawal

Ever since Starlog magazine decided to retire to the powder room to retool its print version, I -- like thousands of other science fiction aficionados -- have been without a monthly print fix from the long-time publisher. (We could take the drug metaphor further, but I'm really not a drug person, so I don't know how.) There is a regularly updated web site, of course, but no print magazine to stick in my bookbag every morning to read on the subway or take to the living room for a relaxing read on the sofa.

True, this isn't a problem as vexing about what to do about the Iranian election problem. But for a blog that is 90-percent focused on magazines and the publishing industry, it's worthy of comment.

For years I have received my shot (okay, one more) of Starlog in the mail, thanks to my subscription. But I still have gone to the bookstore or magazine shops or newsstands (well, we don't really have newsstands here in San Francisco; unlike Manhattan, where I could get just about any magazine from newsstands on zillions of street corners, here there are actual kiosks selling newspapers that sell exactly one paper: The San Francisco Chronicle; it's like a Soviet newsstand, with only one choice) to pick up other magazines and the occasional SF media magazine. Now, when I cruise through a magazine rack looking for magazines, I'm also seeing if there's a replacement for Starlog that might entice me. So far, I'm non-enticed.

This is not just because of pathetic loyalty to the Starlog brand, though long-suffering readers (reader?) of this blog know I've got that. It's that nothing else has that flavor of SF news mixed with affection for the SF fan. No uplifting columns urging fans to pursue their dreams. No acknowledgment of the difficulty of being a dreamer in a world that doesn't much understand dreamers. Instead, at least in the giant-sized British SF mags that dominate the newsstands today, I get the sense from the snarky attitude that the writers and editors are more likely to be the tormentors of a young SF fan than the supporter. But they'll take his or her dollar for the magazine.

Yeah, that's harsh, and I'm sure they're fine people, some of them. But when I pick up a Sci Fi Now or a DeathRay or an SFX, I see three magazines that are so much alike that they're hard to tell apart. To the casual reader at the news rack, they look alike, the tone is the same, and they are UK-focused, not US-focused. So I buy one or two a year, but none of them is a candidate for replacing Starlog as my regular SF print magazine.

Lack of originality is nothing new in the science fiction publishing genre. Back in the prehistoric 1970s, when Starlog started, an early competitor was Fantastic Films, published in the Chicago area. It was painfully Starlog-focused, yet they had none of the editorial magic (nor quality) that made Starlog a must-buy, making Fantastic Films a sometimes-buy. Like Playboy-wannabe Gallery's early years, the aping was sometimes so obvious it made one wonder whether the missing ingredient was a lack of funds or talent. (After Fantastic Films expired in the mid-1980s, the same publisher created FilmFax, which was its own animal and which, I'm pleased to say, continues to this day.) Others during Starlog's run -- Sci Fi Universe, Cinescape, Sci Fi Entertainment, etc. -- also lacked originality. Cinefantastique, the pre-existing original in the field, had long before lost its originality and vigor and seemed to rely on higher prices, fewer pages, and annual Star Trek special issues.

If all of that seems unduly harsh, it comes from a desire to see a publisher do something different and of quality. Sadly, most Starlog competitors did not. (I hold a special place in my pantheon of Starlog competitors for the short-lived -- lucky 13 issues -- Questar magazine. It, too, suffered from trying to succeed at a time when Starlog was redefining and dominating the SF media magazine market, but it did do things differently, taking cues from Omni magazine in terms of design and Future Life in terms of art and literature articles, and adding original comics to the mix. A business failure, but an honorable one. I'd have liked to have seen how that magazine wouldhave evolved over another five years.)

Where the hell was I? Oh, yes: It's ... it's ... it's ...

I don't think I'll explain it here just yet. Those long-suffering reader(s) of this blog might be able to piece together where I'd go with this, what type of magazine I think could redefine the SF media genre today, and which I believe could survive in an internet age and a brutal publishing marketplace. But I'm not ready to lay my cards on the table just yet.

But you probably know some of the key words: Global. Big. Quality. Imaginative. Adult. Human.

Friday, June 19, 2009

More on Basiji Hunters

I forwarded the info in my previous post to an Iranian-American (I'll not disclose name or even gender, because this person still has family in Tehran), who responded: "It's definitely true and they are very community-connected." This person had been a protester in the 1979 revolution that overthrew the Shah, which of course led to the current regime. "This is happening all over again for a better future, I hope."

Iranians Going "Basiji Hunting"?

The Washington Note quotes from an e-mail written by an Iranian:

By the way, two nights ago I went out to see a few things ... as the general crowds spread into their homes militia style Mousavi supporters were out on the streets 'Basiji hunting'.

Their resolve is no less than these thugs -- they after hunting them down. They use their phones, their childhood friends, their intimate knowledge of their districts and neighbours to plan their attacks -- they're organised and they're supported by their community so they have little fear. They create the havoc they're after, ambush the thugs, use their Cocktail Molotovs, disperse and re-assemble elsewhere and then start again - and the door of every house is open to them as safe harbour -- they're community-connected.

The Basiji's are not.

These are not the students in the dorms, they're the street young -- they know the ways better than most thugs - and these young, a surprising number of them girls, are becoming more agile in their ways as each night passes on.

Also, with $10K every local police station lock can be broken and guns taken out...the police too are crowd friendly...for sure put a gun in their hands and these young become a serious counter-balance to the Basij...call them 10% of 18-22 year olds - that makes circa 10 million around the country versus max 4 million Basijis.

That excerpt comes from a longer article that tries to predict the likely scenarios for the outcome in Iran. (It's not optimistic that a peaceful solution will result.) I, on the other hand, would love it to end peacefully, but my definition of a successful conclusion to this is pretty much total surrender by Khamenei and the other hard-line leaders there. If the above excerpt is true, then it's truly amazing that the government's control has broken down so much that people are proactively attacking the militias.

(The usual caveat has to be placed on anything that is an anonymous source quoted on a web site you've never heard of and re-quoted on another blog: It might be all science fiction. I hope it's not.)

Digital vs. Print: Why Must I Choose?

Curious about how National Lampoon looked in its earliest years, I jumped at the opportunity a few months ago to buy (on eBay) an issue from its second year. It arrived in good condition, and I greatly enjoyed reading it -- lying down on the couch or sitting back at my desk with my feet up, paging back and forth, sampling an article here or there, picking up the magazine every time I wanted to read an article in it.

That experience made me remember how much I'd enjoyed the magazine when I discovered it in junior high school (early 1980s), so after testing a couple other issues from eBay, I decided to go ahead and purchase the digital archive of the magazine's complete run. I did a quick look through the issues on the disk when it arrived, and I was impressed. And I haven't put it into the computer since. I have, however, purchased some more old print editions off eBay.

Why? I already have those issues in digital format, right? Isn't it stupid to purchase some print copies (albeit inexpensive ones) when I already own the issues in digital form? Aren't digital and print all the same, if you listen to the print-is-dead crowd?

Well, they're not the same. I actually like the digital version very much. It's a high-quality, complete collection of every darned issue of the magazine, and I can read it at any time. If I take the disk out of the box. If I turn on my computer. If I put the disk into the computer, click the keys, access the appropriate year, access the appropriate issue. If I haven't lost interest by this point in whatever fleeting thought it was that first inspired me to pick up the box and try to find that issue.

Digital editions are great. Seriously. I love them, and I really applaud publishers using them to make available vast storehouses of information in the form of years of archived issues, or using them as an additional version of new print copies. They're just not the same as print editions, and therein lies a point that could hurt the editors who want readers to read what they assembled, and could hurt the advertisers who want the most people to see their ads the most number of times.

Starlog magazine, which went on print hiatus this past spring, has said that it will be producing digital versions of its entire run of the magazine. The archive of its sister mag, Fangoria, is also going to be out digitally, and it has already begun producing digital versions of its line of comics.
Playboy, in addition to the Cover to Cover series of deluxe disk packages, is selectively making digital versions of past issues available free on its web site. All of that is fantastic. I already own the Playboy Cover to Cover archive package for the 1950s, and I plan on buying each new decade as it is released. I will also be eagerly awaiting the Starlog and Fangoria (and other mags, too) digital editions.

But, as a recent conversation reminded me, publishers that rely only on digital editions are shortchanging themselves, their readers, and their sponsors. During a discussion about web sites and digital information, an internet professional noted the benefits of digital news, but then sheepishly said he hasn't given up his daily print newspaper: "I love print." He didn't mean that he just has an old-fashioned affection for it. He said that it's a sit-down (or lie-down) experience to really read something. You have a different experience (including a different degree of identification with and amount of time spent with the publication) when you hold it in your hands than you do when you stare at a computer screen.

So I say, Long live digital and print. I love them both. I understand them both. I want them both. But business and marketing trends are generally led more by emotion and group-think than by clear thought and experience. So we'll continue to see print devalued, even when it's profitable, and we'll continue to see print abandoned for online-only, even though there are other ways to cut down the waste of print (by changing distribution methods, for example). Mainly, we'll continue to see publishers shoot their brands in the feet.

Wednesday, June 17, 2009

Athletes with Guts: Iranian Soccer Team Shows Their Colors

The captain and five other memebers of Iran's national football (er, soccer) team wore green armbands during the first half of a game against South Korea in Seoul. Watch the BBC News report:

As they mention in the video, these players are due to return home after the game, coming back to a country that has banned foreign reporters, is killing and beating up protestors and other opponents of the religious regime, and frantically trying to put a stop to the biggest threat to the government since the 1979 revolution. Godspeed to the protestors, I think, and good for the national team players who demonstrated some real bravery.

I'd love to see some MLB players sport a green armband or ribbon. It might not be their country, but it's a universal cause.

Tuesday, June 16, 2009

Update from Iran's Elections

So this doesn't have anything directly to do with magazines, the main topic of this blog. But it's stunning -- and I think everyone who can should be paying attention and spreading reports of the amazing developments in Iran. I don't know how this will turn out; might very well lead to a bloody crackdown and an even more repressive state. Let's hope for a better outcome than that.

Here's a report from Channel 4 News in the UK:

Papers Unclear on the Concept

Here in San Francisco, we have a free daily newspaper owned by an out-of-town right-wing publisher. It's the San Francisco Examiner, and I'm not sure the company that produces it is clear on how to distribute newspapers.

Consider: The Examiner is a tabloid-sized paper (it also occasionally has tabloid-style editorial leanings, but it lacks the courage of its convictions, so it never rise -- or sinks -- to the level of the New York Post or New York Daily News). And yes, it's weird to have a conservative paper in one of the most famously left-wing cities in America. But that's arguably a good thing, because a city should have multiple voices. Now, it'd be good if people were able to access those voices.

A very thin tabloid is what it is: It's a commuter paper, read almost completely during a bus or subway ride to work. It's not a paper worth taking home and reading after dinner and sharing with the family; there's not enough content in it. So, if it was your paper, why would you hire people to hand out the free paper (it's bad enough that you have to shove a free paper into people's hands) at the downtown subway stops, and not at the subway stops where they get on the train? I have no use for the paper once I get out of the subway, but I might read it from time to time on my way in to work.

Monday, June 15, 2009

Stubborn Adherence to Ad Model Is Killing Magazines

In the April 2009, Jason Fell looked at why publishers are ceasing publication of successful magazines. In "Why Are Successful Magazines Folding?" Fell quotes some publishers -- such as my former boss, Hanley Wood's CEO, Frank Anton -- who stubbornly stick to the ad-driven model for magazines. For them, there are too many magazine pages seeking a limited number of ads, so their should be shrinkage in the magazine marketplace.

I was pleased, however, to see U. of Mississippi magazine expert Samir Husni give a deeper perspective: "The publishing model ... served us well since World War II, when we switched from a circulation-driven publishing model to an advertising-driven model." We now have magazines that devalue their content by practically giving away subscriptions, expecting to get a good rate base to charge advertisers. Hanley Wood, of course, publishes a lot of B2B titles, and they largely live in that world of ads-over-paying-circ.

But it's not the only way, and there are many magazines that survive by subscription and/or newsstand revenue. Put out a magazine that people actually want to receive, are willing to pay for, and it's one they're also more likely to stick with during down times because it has value to them. If Husni's correct, then since WWII, we've traded a solid long-term magazine model for one that is less dependable, puts readers and content at the whim of advertisers, and that delivers less value to the reader. Not sure that's progress.

Sunday, June 14, 2009

The Latest Shopping Spree, Part II

My latest trip to the bookstore, just a couple hours ago this afternoon, ended with me walking out with two magazines:

Monocle (June 2009): Another giant issue (more than 200 pages, I think, counting the inserts) from Financial Times columnist Tyler Brûlé. We get the only magazine that includes Lebanon's elections, Sarkozy, manga, an aviation survey, a look at Mongolia's capital, Obama's White House designing, and a report on the Karachi, Pakistan, police forces. I have no idea if this magazine is a resounding financial success, but I hope it is. It is a big part of my evolving view that these globally-fucused, hefty hefts are the successful magazines of the future, like my new best friend forever, Winq. I'll write more on this theory in the future.

Smithsonian (June 2009): What made me pick up this issue? I've always been impressed by this fine magazine, and I buy several issues of it every year. My mother used to bring home stacks of them from the publishing company where she worked. But my partner's a Frank Lloyd Wright fan, and they've got an article on Wright, so ... magazine purchased.

And then there are the magazines I almost bought, even carrying them with me until I decided for certain that I didn't want to spend money on them:

Deathray (June/July 2009): In my continuing effort to find a science fiction media magazine to replace the hole in my heart left by the print cessation (er, hiatus) of Starlog, I have been trying to choose between SFX, Deathray, and SciFi Now. Problem is, all three oversized British mags are so bleeping similar that one is left walking away from all of them. I had a Deathray in my hands, but before I went to the checkout counter, I realized I hadn't read the April/May issue (had barely opened it), so why spring for an entirely new issue?

Discover (July/August 2009): A decade or two ago, my sister gave me a copy of an annual Best Science Writing of the Year anthology, and I loved it. I learned in the books' introduction that Discover magazine was one of the founders of a new type of popular science writing -- intelligent, accessible to the non-expert, and high-quality. I've read it off and on over the years, even subscribing once or twice. But I have to admit I hate-hate-hated the redesign instituted a few years ago when Bob Guccione Jr. took over the mag (and that's not a knock on Guccione; I see him as someone who's done a hell of a lot of things I wish I'd had the money to do in the magazine industry; I have a premiere issue of Spin magazine just a foot away from my keyboard as I write this, as a matter of fact, and I thought it was great when I heard a rumor that he was interested in reviving Omni as a quarterly, because it fed my own interest in restarting a late science/SF magazine). Anyway, this magazine just didn't make the final should-I-or-shouldn't-I decision as I was toting up the damage from my magazine grazing (particularly in light of my subscription to the weekly New Scientist), so back to the newsstand it went.

Maybe I should write one of these posts on the mags I'm buying used on eBay???

My previous shopping spree

Friday, June 12, 2009

Comic Foundry's Death not Required

I admit I've never seen Comic Foundry, but in the course of following links from one blog to another, I discovered that this magazine had died an early death after only five issues. But I was getting curious the more I read, because in the penultimate issue, Editor in Chief Tim Leong announced the impending closure of the title due -- not, as one would expect, to the tanking economy and the bloodbath that is the publishing marketplace these days -- to a lack of his time to produce the publication.

Hmmm, must be nice to be able to publish a magazine and actually walk away from it. For all the publishers who would die for the chance to produce their own title, this must seem an unbelievable choice for Mr. Leong. But, hey, it's his magazine. And you've gotta respect him for that. It's sort of Calvin and Hobbesian in the way the creator just walked away when it suited him, not waiting for the slow decline of fame ...

Fantasy & SF Blogging

The Magazine of Fantasy & Science Fiction is giving away a limited numbers of its current issue to bloggers who promise to blog about the issue. Magazines usually send out comp copies to various members of the media, hoping to entice them to cite the magazine in an article or newscast. So this isn't unusual; was just the first time I've noticed it -- and the only time I've seen the magazine publish an online call for bloggers to request the freebie.

And no, I don't get a free copy for this blog post. I already subscribe.

Wednesday, June 10, 2009

Weekly Standard for Sale

Rumor has it that Rupert Murdoch's right-wing Weekly Standard political magazine is being shopped to right-wing publisher Philip Anschutz.

Billionaire Anschutz, a supporter of hard-right political and social causes, is unlikely to change the political bent of the magazine leftward, though he's also not likely to make it any more respectable. (This is the man who owns the San Francisco Examiner, a free daily in one of America's most liberal cities, which did an early and enthusiastic full-front-page endorsement of John McCain and Sarah Palin. Talk about not knowing your audience ...)

Tuesday, June 9, 2009

Bonnier's Putting Money into Magazines

Bonnier Group is one of the largest magazine owners in the United States, and it's looking to take advantage of other owners' pain by making more acquisitions.

Crazy? Aren't all the anti-print people saying magazines are dead? Readers of this blog know I don't think that. But I'm pleased to see someone with hundreds of millions of dollars agree with me.

Terry Snow, chief executive of the private Swedish company's U.S. magazine division, told the Financial Times that his company expected to be able to make moves that public companies and other investors could not.
“The public companies, unfortunately, are pressured by quarterly earnings, and then you have venture-backed companies which are fighting the banks,” he told the FT. Bonnier expected some large magazine owners to sell once credit markets improved, he said, “and I think we will be one of the few strategic buyers.”
But Bonnier's not stuck in the past, even though it's a 200-year-old company. It's exploring a wide array of multimedia and online extensions of the magazines it's been adding to its stable.

Even though Bonnier's a big player, it illustrates something I've been thinking about lately. Back in the mid-1990s, after cash-strapped Bob Guccione ceased publication of science fiction/fact magazine Omni, I pitched a smaller multi-title publisher the idea of a start-up (actually, a revival) magazine in the same market space. The publisher declined, but we talked at length about Omni, which was killed despite having a circulation of more than 600,000. He said -- with something sounding like astonishment -- (this is a paraphrase, of course, more than a decade after the fact), "I could make Omni work. But they can't. Guccione has to do everything big -- big staff, big salaries, high costs. But I could make it work for less."

What was a terrible money drain for Guccione at 600,000 would have been a high circulation for this other publisher, whose normal titles sold less than half that. It would have been a different magazine, of course, because money does buy a certain level of artistic and professional talent. But it wouldn't necessarily have been a bad magazine, as hundreds (thousands?) of small magazines have proven over the years.

And Omni's only one example. Some big publishers have commented that they can't make a magazine work financially if its circulation is below something like 750,000. So they close or -- here's my point -- sell magazines that don't attain that level.

That means there are a lot of magazines that could come to the auction block, and a well-funded publisher/investor could snap up a lot of them, publish quality titles at lower cost, and make a bundle. Hello?

Colbert and Newsweek, Part II

More thoughts on the guest-editing of Newsweek by political satirist Stephen Colbert. This time, Folio: blogger Dylan Stableford writes about his thoughts (he's of two minds) on the matter.

I've already noted my respectful distaste for the move. You just shouldn't put a comedy character (even a smart political one who does some wonderful things) in charge of a serious news organ. I'm sure the issue will sell well and be worth reading. I'll be buying a copy. But it's not going to make Newsweek a better magazine; only regular good reporting, big stories, and in-depth analysis will do that.

Friday, June 5, 2009

Madeleine Albright Praises Obama's Egypt Speech

You would, of course, expect that Democrat and former Secretary of State Madeleine Albright would have kind words for Democratic President Barack Obama's foreign policy. Nonetheless, I still found her responses to questions at The Commonwealth Club today interesting, and they provided some background to the entire decision to have a presidential "speech to the Muslim world."

Thursday, June 4, 2009

Newsweek De-Hypes Oprah

As much as I like the new Newsweek, it's not a regular purchase for me. There are just too many magazines already arriving in my mailbox or jumping into my arms at the newsstand (yes, that's a little unsettling). So I passed up the recent cover story on Iran, even though it sounded very intriguing.

But this week's I couldn't pass up: "Crazy Talk: Oprah, Wacky Cures & You," shouts the cover (over an image of Oprah either shouting or trying to prevent her head from exploding). Basically, I have a weakness for magazines that do the work to destroy myths and deflate the truly wacky, and this article beckoned to me, promising to destroy and deflate America's biggest personality. It didn't disappoint.

(And, because this blog is known globally as the home of the highest journalistic ethical standards, I should note that one of the article's authors, Weston Kosova, was a schoolmate of mine at the University of Wisconsin and is a fellow alum of the Badger Herald student daily.)

The article (coauthored by Kosova and Pat Wingert) is a forceful and occasionally funny look at Oprah's gullibility for new-age quackery, and it includes some sobering warnings for Oprah's many minions in the world who might be tempted to follow her advice or the advice of her quacktastic guests. Now that we've finally gotten a president who believes in reality, it's nice to see some publications sticking up for science, even if it means going after one of the most popular people around.

As Bad Astronomy science blogger Phil Plait notes:
Oprah recently stepped from the realm of pseudoscience firmly into the realm of dangerous antiscience when she decided to support antivax advocate Jenny McCarthy. The blogosphere went, well, nuts, condemning her for this. That includes me; I’m pretty ticked Oprah would put so many children in danger by giving McCarthy a platform from which to spew her nonsense. ... I am so happy that Newsweek has not only tackled Oprah’s prolonged New Age nonsense, but they came on strong. They not only printed a 6-page long dissection of Oprah’s ridiculous assertions, they made it their front page story this week!
I'm usually against news magazines putting celebrities on their covers but, boy, is this different.

Anna Wintour on "60 Minutes"

On May 17, 2009, "60 Minutes"'s Morley Safer interviewed and profiled Vogue magazine editor Anna Wintour. Naturally, the comparisons have to be made with Meryl Streep in the film of the novel The Devil Wears Prada, but the reality seems more interesting. That's because this überpowerful magazine editor is both a lot like Streep's characterization and also different -- more human, and probably smarter.

The behind-the-scenes shots of Wintour at work in her office (which does look a lot like Streep's Miranda Priestley's office in Prada) and of her staff of scary-skinny worker bees (who do look a lot like the ones in Prada) gives viewers a sense of what it's like working in luxury-brand magazine publishing. I hope young journalism students don't watch that and think there's any chance in hell that they'll work in such a situation. Most magazine offices are made up of cheap cubicles, cranky copy editors, and -- if you're lucky -- free bagels on Fridays.

The video of the segment is below; read a transcript here.

Wednesday, June 3, 2009

Magazine Errors: Guest Editors

A thankfully infrequent but unthankfully not extinct publicity stunt that some magazines pull is the use of a celebrity guest editor, someone who helps plan, write, design and -- of course -- promote the issue.

I'm tempted to try to come up with some fake guest-editor/magazine pairings, but the reality has been even sillier: Remember Roseanne guest editing The New Yorker? Or how about the latest: comedian Stephen Colbert guest editing an issue of Newsweek?

Yikes. Now, I love Colbert's work. He's not only funny, I think he's got real intelligence and rare understanding of the importance of the things he targets with wit. (Yes, count me among those who thought his performance at the 2006 White House Correspondents' Dinner was a rare act of valuable court-jestering in a country that has come to believe that film and television is only for entertaining, not for actually making a point.)

But Newsweek? I also like the new Newsweek, as I've noted here. So this isn't a case of me disliking either the guest editor or magazine. But I think Newsweek will undercut its credibility as a serious journalistic enterprise with this stunt. A few more 25-year-olds might pick up that issue, but probably a few less 50-year-olds (you know, the consumers with all the money) will do so.

Empire magazine, a large film monthly from the UK, celebrated its 20th anniversary with a special issue guest edited by Stephen Spielberg. Again, I have no problem with either the magazine or the guest editor; Empire is consistently a high-quality publication that probably only errs in occasionally giving more attitude than substance; and Spielberg is an extraordinary talent as well as being a man of brave social conscience. But one can't read Empire ever again and think it's providing an independent look at the film world. How much can you criticize a film if the director is a potential editor? How much can a reader trust your positive review of a film from a potential editor? How important is the magazine's independence compared to the extra copies they expect to be bought because of Spielberg's involvement?

My biggest problem is just that the practice of using guest editors undercuts the very magazine it's trying to promote. A magazine is not an internet public forum. It is a particular world view designed and shaped by a team of editors and publishers. It's their take on whatever subject matter is the focus of the magazine (the week's news, the music world, science fiction films, whatever). And readers need to be able to think that they're getting that point of view (however broad or narrow) straight and not filtered through too much whoring for money (yeah, not through too much whoring -- everyone knows there'll be some).

So, what about Meryl Streep guest editing Vogue? Or the Octomom guest editing The Economist?

Nah, I just can't top Roseanne and The New Yorker.

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Tuesday, June 2, 2009

New York Times vs. Good Housekeeping

It's thunderdome: Two magazines enter, only one exits!

I reported (well, re-reported; someone else did the actual reporting, but that's the blog world, eh?) recently that Good Housekeeping was going to actually increase the dimensions of its print magazine -- expanding in size and making itself more visible. As I wrote then, I think that's exactly the right thing to do. I'm tired of (and depressed by) all the magazines that react to bad times by becoming thinner and smaller and giving the reader less reason to pick them up, so I was pleased to see an established magazine do something dramatic.

Now, Editor & Publisher reports that the The New York Times Magazine is shrinking in size. The magazine's new dimensions will be 9 percent smaller than the current edition. It's a cost-saving measure, according to the managing editor.


New Playboy CEO Puts the Kibosh on Sales Talk?

And no, I'm not certain that I spelled "kibosh" correctly.

Anyway, news comes that Playboy Enterprise's new CEO is the widely rumored Scott Flanders, currently the CEO of Freedom Communications, Inc., a California family owned newspaper and television media company. In an interview in the Chicago Tribune, Flanders says a number of interesting things -- almost all of them right -- including his commitment to working for Playboy's long-term success and not a quick sale.

I thought this comment was pretty important, showing that he understands the company he will be heading, starting July 1:
Playboy already has a very powerful brand, a very powerful asset. It participates across virtually every media platform. In many of those areas, Playboy was a pioneer. Having said that, it is still a relatively small company. While it punches above its weight, I believe Playboy's best days are in front of it.
I'm always a bit skeptical when a corporate chief says our-best-days-are-ahead-of-us sort of stuff (because they all say it, even if their Titanic is about to hit the corporate iceberg), but the above comment suggests that Flanders knows both his new company's limitations and its potential. His grounded optimism becomes even clearer when he defends print publishing:
I remain a believer in print. The consumer experience is much more tactile and comfortable with print. Particularly with magazines, there is a visual experience. Not just for the content and the editorial, but also for the advertising. The newspaper and magazine industry do not have an audience recession. When you add the print readership and the 45 million pageviews. ... The audience for Playboy is larger than it has ever been.
You can read the entire interview here, including his comments about moving from a libertarian publishing company to one perceived to be liberal (but, in reality, has largely been libertarian) and about the actual health of Playboy Enterprises (compared to the perception).

Flanders replaces interim CEO Jerome Kern and is the permanent replacement for Christie Hefner, the longtime Playboy company head who left in January.

Monday, June 1, 2009

How Retouching!

Doesn't anyone have consumer education classes in school anymore? Did those die out in the last right-wing attack on education? I'm assuming most high schoolers are no longer learning about how products are marketed toward them, or how articles are written, or how television programs are designed to influence them -- because people are getting very overworked about things that should not surprise them one bit.

The New York Times recently reported on the shocked-yes-shocked reactions of people to the amount of photo retouching that goes on in fashion magazines. The article refers to some egregious examples of cover models who have been Photoshopped to hell and back in attempts to make them look thinner. (Notice how they never Photoshop them to make them look smarter? Now that would be a nice touch. Er, retouch.) But most of the slant of the Times piece seems to be that showing more "real" women, untouched by a redesigner's effort, will enhance women's self-esteem and body-image. Phil Poynter, a photographer and/or designer (hard to tell from the Times' description of his work), said that “the big discussion in the fashion business has always been about should we retouch girls, should we create a portrait of a girl that is not achievable by a real girl.”

Two things:

1) Yep, the fashion (and show-business) magazines present an unrealistic image of women and girls. They do the same for men, of course, but that's usually ignored in the discussion.

2) People flock to the newsstands to buy these magazines. No one that I know of has been forced at gunpoint to purchase Vogue, Elle, or Us Weekly (though that's the only way I'd buy them). I don't write that as a libertarian whatever-the-consumer-wants-must-be-right statement. No, I mean that they could change their approach completely, but women would just start buying different magazines. People buy those magazines because they want to see the perfect, the unachievable, the unattainable, for the same reason people buy car magazines featuring expensive Porsches and Jaguars. Other people may not like that, but it's human nature and fact.

There was another flare-up of this controversy a while back about magazines altering the skin color on its cover images, making African Americans look either darker or lighter. That could, indeed, be a reprehensible practice; one would have to know the exact details of the situation to make a judgment (but when did that stop Americans from making judgments?).

But we should also make the obvious point, at least the obvious point from the perspective of practically anyone who's worked in magazines: All magazine photos are Photoshopped to some degree. Portions of them are made darker or lighter (often for reasons normal readers would never suspect, such as the need to offset the effects of the particular paper they're using or their printer's likelihood of printing darker or lighter than it should). Images are cropped to focus on a portion of the picture. Blemishes are removed, even if they're not trying to make the person look "unattainably beautiful," because if there is a prominent blemish -- a pimple, a scar, a rash, whatever -- on a person's face that is featured on a magazine cover, it doesn't look real so much as it looks like you're trying to feature the blemish. A magazine cover is not a capture of a split-second of reality; it's a framed highlight that focuses the viewer's attention on the cover image and on any noticeable feature on that image.

But then, a little consumer education would have told people how the real world works. An educated viewer/reader/consumer doesn't need to overreact when they are told that Vogue is trying to get them to buy a magazine or that Bank of America wants them to accept a credit card offer. No kidding, Sherlock.